ONCE upon a time, the Island had five castles ­— Carisbrooke, Yarmouth, Norris, Steephill and East Cowes.

The last two on the list, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, managed to outlast various owners and survive two world wars, but they were no match for the developers of the late 1950s.

It was the castles’ misfortune to become old and rundown at a time when the past was out of fashion and housing estates were all the rage.

If they had only hung on just another ten years, things may well have been different ­— the swinging sixties would have been in full flow and in those heady days, the chances are that neither demolition would have been allowed.

Steephill was fairly modest as castles go, and without doubt, East Cowes Castle was the biggest loss.

It was built on the slopes adjacent to York Avenue in 1798, by the architect, John Nash, who designed Newport Town Hall and much of Georgian London, including Buckingham Palace.

An imposing sight, the castle stood at what is now the junction of Hefford and Hendy Road, and was to be Nash’s private home.

Visible for miles, it was a grand affair, with more than 40 rooms, two libraries and even an orangery.

Nash died in 1835, and the castle then passed through a string of various owners, including Lord Gort, member of the Vereker family.

The castle fell on hard times in the twentieth century, even becoming a tea garden at one point, and on the outbreak of the war, it was requisitioned by the army ­— and that proved to be its undoing.

Basically still sound at that point, the castle suffered major damage at the hands of the soldiers billeted there, and when it was handed back to the owners in 1950, it was described by the County Press as ‘a disintegrating shell’.

It then stood unoccupied for several years, and thieves helped themselves to the lead from the roofs, cut out the floors and tore down the bookcases.

In 1951, new owners, Castle Growers Ltd, opened the derelict building as a fruit farm.

They demolished the library and billiards room in the process, and used other rooms as fruit stores and packing areas.

In May, 1953, under the headline, ‘East Cowes Castle ­— stately home falls into ruin’, the County Press reported: “The company hope to retain the safe part of the building as an impressive ruin.

“The estate is now planted for greenhouse and cloche-grown strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blackcurrants, and plans include the planting of an apple orchard.”

The grand plans came to nought, and in 1958, the estate was bought by local businessman, Arthur Guy, who submitted imaginative and sensitive plans for the redevelopment of the estate.

The Council refused planning permission for his scheme to bring the castle back to life, so in frustration, Mr Guy sold the estate.

It was then bought by developers who ­— unlike Mr Guy ­— were instantly able to get planning permission, and in January, 1962, the castle was demolished.

Mr Guy wrote to tell County Press readers the whole sad story.

“I was the last private person to own East Cowes Castle,” he said.

“In 1935, it was purchased by a syndicate of businessmen in Cowes, and during the war it was occupied by troops, and that started its period of destruction, which has finally brought it to its present, pitiable state.

“After the war, the owners sold all the lead, copper, valuable wood partitions, etc, and then in the ‘50s, the magnificent cedars were cut down from the hillside facing Cowes, so the castle came into full view from the harbour.

“Some of the rooms were fitted out in magnificent style, the library and the picture gallery especially.

“The conservatory was 250 feet in length, and the gardens and lawns were really beautiful ­— the whole place full of character.

“I purchased it in 1958, with the intention of tidying it up, restoring the gardens and making it into a place of beauty and interest to visitors.

“The coach proprietors were very interested.

“There was also to be an 18-hole golf course, a bathing and paddling pool, and all were to be open to the public, but I also wanted to build some self-contained cedarwood bungalows for summer letting, but the scheme did not meet with the approval of the powers that be, so I sold the place.

“East Cowes will now lose the castle and will acquire a housing estate.”

And so it was.

On September 29, 1962, the County Press reported: “Mr Arthur Guy of East Cowes, the last private owner of the East Cowes Castle, purchased it in 1958 with the intention of tidying it up, restoring the gardens, and building a golf course, swimming pool, and bungalow chalets in the grounds.

“Planning permission was refused and he sold the property to Myton Ltd.

“This firm now plans to build an estate of 250 houses and bungalows on the land.”

And that, as they say, was that.